One Friday evening in late October, I found a scan of a flier on a friend's Facebook wall. The flier, I later learned, had been handed out to residents of the Thorncliffe Park neigbourhood in Toronto's east end. Its purpose: To caution parents about implementation of Ontario's "Accepting School's Act," also known as Bill 13, which passed its final reading on June 15th, 2012 and is scheduled to be fully implemented by February 2013.
Let me backtrack: The Accepting Schools Act amends The Education Act of Ontario. Essentially, the Act itself governs all public and Catholic public schools serving students from Kindergarten thru grade 12. It is the guiding document of educators and administrators and even overrides the Ontario Human Rights Code. The Education Ministry document, LEGISLATIVE REQUIREMENTS FROM BILL 13... Accepting Schools Act as follows:
- New definition of bullying
- Changes to Section 310(1) of the Education Act (which set out the circumstances in which a pupil must be suspended and considered for possible expulsion) which now includes certain circumstances related to bullying and to activities that are motivated by bias, prejudice or hate.
- Amending board multi-year plans to include the goals set out in Bill 13 around positive school climate and bullying prevention.
Not everyone in the province agrees on Bill 13, which brings me back to this flier.
My colleague and I met at the foodcourt of the East York Town Centre an hour before the Sunday meeting was to start. Safety was a concern. Would we be seen as interlopers? We decided to press on, attend the meeting, keep a low profile, take notes, and speak only if we felt safe to do so.
Having grown up in Thorncliffe Park, I knew the exact location of the meeting -- it was in a community centre attached to the public library. We hopped into our cars and headed around the block to the meeting.
We were in for a surprise. The community centre and library were locked tight and dark.
As I posted previously, the passage of Bill 13 triggered the dissemination of family "spiritual values letters," which parents have been submitting to schools, requesting that they be advised in advance of certain topics they deem inappropriate for their children. Further parents have asked that this letter be placed in the child's OSR (Ontario Student Record), essentially a permanent file in which all relevant information about a student is kept. I wrote about Dr Steve Tourloukis, who is suing the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board over the refusal of his children's school to advise him in advance of lessons on topics contrary to his faith.
The "family spiritual values" story and this recent event in Thorncliffe Park piqued my curiosity. Where are all these letters coming from? Who are the players? What are they playing at?
Two names kept coming up: Phil Lees and Jawed Anwar. Lees, along with Shaukat Malik, was scheduled to speak at the Thorncliffe Park event. Anwar's name came up when I searched the web for information on "Parent Action Committee Thorncliffe Toronto."
Lees is also a former president of the Hamilton-Wentworth Family Action Council, which has campaigned against abortion counselling for teens and seems to take a rather dim view sexual health curriculum in the region. Lees is also the leader of Family Coalition Party (Ontario).
In a YouTube video produced by the Minnesota Catholic Conference and Minnesota for Marriage, Lees cautions Minnesotans on the perils of same-sex, engaging in a bizarre diatribe on Ontario's Bill 13, "The Accepting Schools Act." A state ballot was to be placed before the electorate on November 6, 2012, reversing the legislature's legalization of same-sex marriage. Voters upheld the legislature, and Minnesota takes its place among nine States to have some form of same-sex marriage or civil union.
This reference to mock wedding ceremonies pops up here and there on Lees' talks and websites -- completely without attribution. A quick scan of the TDSB's Challenging Homophobia Challenging Homophobia and Heterosexism: A K-12 Curriculum Resource Guide (2001) shows nothing like the above example. Lees and others assert that the TDSB guide is, in fact, a stealth Ministry of Education document, soon to be disseminated throughout the province. Google searches about this anecdote lead right back to Lees' sites. For an instructional strategy that is, as Lees would have us believe, so widespread, one would expect it to pop op in a blog, a newspaper story, or even on facebook.
He goes on: "The Ministry of Education requires every school to institute a queer hero strategy, which means successful people who are homosexual -- their sexual orientation when they are being studied in school -- needs to be acknowledged to the students." And again, I searched and searched. Again, I was lead back to Lees.
Another Lees anecdote is a textbook example of a carpenter building a roof and applying the Pythagorean theorum. The carpenter, says Lees, is a cross-dresser. Different permutations of the cross dress and carpenter yielded only links to racy personal ads, so I bailed on further investigation of Lees conspiracy theories about the queering of Ontario schoolchildren.
His last comment, though, bears careful consideration.
People in this state [of Minnesota] have an opportunity to stop same-sex marriage. In Ontario, we did not -- we were not given that privilege. I'm encouraging you to take advantage of this [impeding state ballot]. Stand up for your religious freedoms and defend your right to raise your children in a way that you believe to be appropriate.In the world according to Lees, it is desirable for the majority to vote on the human rights of the minority. An Ontario Human Rights Code does not exist in Lees' world. The fact that that code ensconces protection -- not for gays and lesbians -- but from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation for the past twenty-five years is irrelevant.
In my next blog, I'll examine some of Jawed Anwar's works, his apparent ties to Lees, and various conspiracy theories floating around about Bill Thirteen.